we just finished a series of lectures based on a video lecture series (¿Great Courses?), Improve Your Health Awareness. It established a "Skeptic's Toolkit" of six S'es of questions to ask about all claims (Source, Strength, Salesmanship, Salience, Sides of the Scale, Sensibility) and then applied them to examine and evaluate newspaper and journal reports of medical studies. In our classes, after watching the video lecture we would then discuss it.
One thing that came out was that there is often a disconnect between the article's headline and the contents of the article itself. In many cases, the article did a proper job of citing sources and weighing both sides, etc, but the headline reflected none of that and would a times even contradict what the article said. One conclusion we arrived at (I forget whether the lecturer, an MD, had alluded to it) was that the person writing the headline was different from the person who wrote the article. IOW, a journalist wrote the article applying whatever skills and scruples a journalist would apply in conjunction with reporting the facts -- IOW, what would be important to the journalist would be the story that he is telling. But then it was the editor
who wrote the headline and what was important to the editor was basically to create clickbait
, to come up with a headline that would grab the readers' attention and entice them to read the article. Far too many of us, myself included, will gather much of our news by scanning headlines and not by actually taking the time to read the articles.
What's concerning, is not just that one journalist is shit at his job and that his editors are shit at theirs (original source was the Daily Mail, after all), but that of the 7 'news sources' that simply copied the Daily Mail's story, only one put enough thought into their rewrite to remove this basic, glaring error. The other 6 all blithely inform us that it's a 65-million year old Jurassic fossil.
Unfortunately, that's business as usual. Many articles in local newspapers come in through the various news feeds as we can see in the bylines of AP (Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International). Local papers have limited resources and definite deadlines for going to press. One would wish to be using a reliable news feed that one could trust. Not being British, I would assume that the Daily Mail is not one such trustworthy news feed.
However, I can also see this as a model for how "creation science" and the flow of creationist claims works. I've often used the model of urban legends in which most creationist claims are spread in the same manner such that nobody has any idea who had originated those claims. Then one level higher we can see where a creationist wrote something which other creationists then referenced or just simply copied without attribution, etc until we have that rarity, that unicorn: a bibliographical history of a creationist claim. On my page about that creationist claim that refuses to die, the "leap second claim" (AKA "at the rate that the earth's rotation is slowing down, ..."), I was able to follow creationist bibliographies from Kent Hovind all the way back to perhaps Creationist Zero of this claim, Walter Brown circa 1979: see DWISE1'S CREATION / EVOLUTION PAGE: Earth's Rotation is Slowing -- A History of the Claim
As I point out in a footnote there:
It is very common for creationists to use claims made by other creationists and plagiarize that other creationist's bibliography, thus lying to their public about their sources. Since they've never seen the sources they claim and so do not know what they say, this is one reason why the first best action to refute a creationist claim is to read the source they claim.
For example, Dr. Henry Morris claimed his moon dust claim was based on a "1976" NASA document, "written well into the space age". That "1976" date was the primary point of the claim, which was meant to refute the observation that they use outdated sources. When I pulled that NASA document off the library shelf, the front cover refuted Morris' claim because it contained papers presented in 1965 and was printed in 1967. Clearly Morris had never actually seen the document that he claimed as his source. Instead, Morris' actual source was Harold Slusher, a fellow creationist, who also claimed that NASA document as his source and who, I now suspect, had also never seen that NASA document, but rather plagiarized that reference from yet another creationist.
For the full story, see my page, MOON DUST.
Similarly, if you should ever look at creationist claims for the "shrinking sun" (actually, it's getting larger by about an inch per year), you will inevitably find many creationists telling you the same thing: three hundred (300) years of observations taken at the Boyle
Observatory show that the sun is shrinking. Both things ("Boyle Observatory" and "300 years") will immediately tell you that that claim is based on bogus sources. The "shrinking sun" claim is based on an abstract presented by Eddy and Boornazian in 1979 based on solar observations taken over a period of about ninety years (from about the mid 1800's to the 1930's)
at the Royal Observatory
. The very moment you ever see "Boyle Observatory" or "300 years of observations" come up, you know for a fact that the other side is running on 100% BS.
Decades of bitter experience informs us that creationists operate on recycling bogus claims uncritically. And that is what you have observed happening with this ichthyosaur fossil article.
Submitting this as an idea of "how it should be done." In my junior high school journalism class we were taught that the very first paragraph of an article must answer the questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why (even more than half a century later, I can still whip those out at a moment's notice). Thus the first paragraph of an article would support the headline (and possibly act as a guideline for the editor in writing that headline) by giving the reader a kind of summary of the rest of the article. Similarly, in English composition classes we were taught that the first paragraph in an essay must include our thesis
, a statement of what the essay is about, coupled with a conclusion in the last paragraph that demonstrates the completion of that thesis.
A professional journalist should know how to do his job, but then there's the editor. In the preface of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (¿Carson Napier of Venus?), the protagonist had submitted his story directly to Burroughs via a form of ghost typing. Burroughs swore up and down that he was just relaying the story on as it was given to him, but, he then warned, first it must pass through the hands of the editors and editors would even change the very Word of God.